NRLC testifies in Idaho legislative committee over dangers of “web-cam abortions”


By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

Editor’s note. On Tuesday, we posted a story headlined, “Idaho House committee votes 13-4 in favor of law to curb web-cam abortions” As we noted in the opening sentence, NRLC’s Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon, director of Education & Research, testified at the hearing that discussed Idaho HB 154: Physician Physical Presence Women Protection Act of 2015. The following is his testimony. You will not find a better short summary of the history and dangers of chemical abortions which are made even dangerous when part of so-called “webcam abortions” than in Dr. O’Bannon’s remarks.

Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

Good Morning, Chairman Loertscher, members of the House State Affairs Committee. I thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today.

I am Dr. Randall K. O’Bannon, the director of research and education for National Right to Life. I have been researching and writing on chemical abortion for over 20 years, from the time when RU-486 was first tested in the U.S. in 1994 to the advent of web-cam abortions in Iowa in 2008 and subsequent efforts of Planned Parenthood to expand their use to other states.

From the beginning, the abortion industry has asserted that these drugs are both “safe and effective.” But too many women have found otherwise.

Let me read you the tally from a postmarketing summary on mifepristone published by the FDA on April 30, 2011.

* more than 2,200 reports of “adverse events” or complications (2,207)

* more than 600 women (612) hospitalized,

* more than 300 (339) requiring transfusions.

* 256 women reported infections, with 48 of them classified as severe.

* 58 cases of ectopic pregnancies, which the pills do not treat

Sometimes these complications prove deadly.

The FDA knew of at least 14 deaths associated with use of these drugs in the U.S. and at least five more in other countries. And that was as of April 2011.

Deadly infections killed more than half (8) of those who died in the U.S. Undiscovered ectopic pregnancies which ruptured killed two others. Women in other countries have bled to death.

They aren’t identified by name in the FDA report, but we have come up with names and details when we cross-referenced cases we’ve seen in newspapers.

Brenda Vise was a 38-year-old pharmaceutical executive from Chattanooga, TN who died in 2001 after her ectopic pregnancy ruptured. Clinic technicians had not been able to find the child on an ultrasound.

Vise’s case shows that it is not enough just to have the equipment to date or locate a pregnancy. It is essential to have someone who has the training to read an ultrasound, to do a pelvic exam, a blood test, to recognize the signs of ectopic pregnancy which these drugs will not treat.

Rebecca Tell Berg, a Swedish sixteen year old, and Manon Jones, an 18 year old from Britain, both bled to death, in 2003 and 2005 respectively.

Everyone who chemically aborts bleeds, and not just a little. A woman aborting with mifepristone [the first of the two drugs associated with an “RU-486” abortion] generally bleeds four times as much as a woman having a standard first-trimester surgical abortion. Sometimes the bleeding goes on for days, or weeks. When the bleeding gets out of control, what a woman needs is not a phone or a webcam, but a doctor close by who can examine her, evaluate her condition, and provide emergency surgery if necessary.

In September of 2003, Holly Patterson went to her local Planned Parenthood, signed some forms, took mifepristone there at the clinic, and administered the misoprostol [the second of the drugs] to herself days later. Even though she visited her local ER when cramps and bleeding became unbearable, once she told them she was having a chemically-induced abortion, they simply did a pelvic exam, gave her some pain meds, and sent her home.

She was dead just a few days later. What doctors thought to be the side effects of the chemical abortion turned out to be signs of a massive reproductive infection.

There was a sudden rash of these rare clostridial infections once these abortion pills went on the market. Seemingly out of nowhere, several otherwise healthy women – Holly Patterson, Orianne Shevin, Chanelle Bryant, Vivian Tran – suddenly contracted this bacteria and died within about a week of their chemical abortions.

One of the major problems in all these cases is that the signs and symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy, of a hemorrhage, of a serious reproductive tract infection – that is, painful cramping, heavy bleeding, gastro-intestinal distress – also are standard side effects of the chemical abortion process. They are signs that even a trained emergency room doctor might easily misinterpret.

Someone who has been trained in use of the drugs, who understands the chemical abortion process, who knows and has examined the patient, really needs to be on hand to manage the situation, not some night shift nurse in the E.R. and certainly not some lowly clinic administrator who has drawn the short straw and gotten weekend phone duty.

No one is saying that every woman dies. But these women who did were, from all we can gather, in good or even perfect health before taking these abortifacients. They were, we must assume, screened and counseled and given the correct pills. But things somehow went horribly wrong and the help they needed was neither close enough nor swift enough nor capable enough to save their lives.

Planned Parenthood and their allies in the abortion industry may try to tell you that they’ve learned from their experience, that they’ve modified their “protocol,” that they’ve eliminated the problems, but women have continued to suffer and be injured and risk death after every government warning, every protocol adjustment, every new “innovation.”

Web-cam abortions are their latest innovation, one that stands to increase Planned Parenthood’s reach and its revenues, but does not promise to make women’s lives any safer.

They claim high safety and efficacy rates with webcam abortions, but critical data is missing.

In Grossman’s August 2011 study from the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, 58 women, or 21% of telemedicine study participants, were “lost to followup.” Nearly four times that many, 207, the report says, “declined participation” in the study or were “not invited.”

This is, in fact, one of the chief problems with web-cam abortions – not the women who dutifully check in reporting they survived their chemical ordeals – but the ones who don’t. Women who disappear, who go through this arduous, dangerous, bloody process without ever meeting the doctor in person who is charged with their care.

Researchers would have you ignore these lost women and calculate safety and efficacy from only those women with whom they were able to follow up. That’s part of how you get a 99% “success” rate. While possible that these lost women’s cases were non-problematic, it is also possible that these women turned to their own personal physicians, or to a doctor in the E.R., to handle serious problems.

Whether these other doctors would have been prepared to handle abortion related complications, or whether they would have even been told the woman was dealing with complications of a chemical abortion, is an open question. Some promoters of abortion pills have told women to tell doctors they are having miscarriages. They tell them the doctors can’t tell the difference.

If so, they won’t show up in any mortality rates or “adverse event” reports associated with the drugs, but they will be dead or injured just the same

Frankly, we at National Right to Life believe that both women and their unborn children would be better off if these drugs weren’t sold in the U.S. at all. But if they are going to sold, the least we can do is to make sure that the mother’s life isn’t going to be put at further risk for the convenience and economic benefit of the abortionist.

Even in Grosssman’s 2011 study touting women’s ‘satisfaction” with webcam abortions, a high percentage – 25% – still said they would have preferred being in the same room as the doctor.

Perhaps the industry considers a few ruptured ectopic pregnancies, hemorrhaging patients, or life-threatening infections as “statistically insignificant,” as acceptable losses, as just the cost of doing business. But I don’t think the rest of us do. Not when lives hang in the balance, not when this is an entirely elective procedure, not when we can put a doctor in the room to ensure a more responsible standard of care.

I urge you to pass HB 154. Protect women’s health and make sure these doctors do their jobs.